A small lake on an island that sits within the broader Taal volcano in the Philippines has completely disappeared during the past few days of eruptions, according to new satellite imagery and news reports.

Volcanic eruptions since 1800

Circles are scaled by the

Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)

Small

Moderate

Large

JAPAN

CHINA

VIET.

TAIWAN

Pinatubo

1991

THAI.

Taal

Manila

South

China

Sea

PHILIPPINES

BRUNEI

MALAYSIA

Krakatoa

Tambora

1883

1815

Indian

Ocean

1,000 MILES

AUST.

Volcanic eruptions since 1800

Circles are scaled by the

Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)

Small

Moderate

Large

JAPAN

CHINA

VIET.

Pacific

Ocean

TAIWAN

Pinatubo

1991

THAI.

Taal

Manila

1874, 1911, 1965

South

China

Sea

PHILIPPINES

BRUNEI

MALAYSIA

Krakatoa

1883

Tambora

1815

Indian

Ocean

1,000 MILES

AUSTRALIA

Volcanic eruptions since 1800

Circles are scaled by the

Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)

1,000 MILES

JAPAN

Small

Moderate

Large

CHINA

Pacific

Ocean

VIET.

TAIWAN

Pinatubo

1991

THAI.

Taal

Manila

1874, 1911, 1965

South

China

Sea

PHILIPPINES

BRUNEI

MALAYSIA

PAPUA

NEW GUINEA

Krakatoa

1883

Tambora

Indian

Ocean

1815

AUSTRALIA

JAPAN

CHINA

Volcanic eruptions since 1800

Circles are scaled by the

Volcanic Explosivity Index (VEI)

established by the USGS in 1982.

VIET.

TAIWAN

Pinatubo

Small

Moderate

Large

1991

THAI.

Taal

Manila

1874, 1911, 1965

South

China

Sea

PHILIPPINES

Pacific

Ocean

BRUNEI

MALAYSIA

1,000 MILES

PAPUA

NEW GUINEA

Krakatoa

1883

Tambora

Indian

Ocean

1815

AUSTRALIA

This development is a consequence of the ongoing volcanic eruption there, which has been taking place since Sunday and featured at least one episode in which ash and debris was lofted more than 30,000 feet into the air. The ash cloud that resulted produced vivid lightning as ice particles, ash and pulverized rocks slammed together and generated static charges.

Manila

Manila

Bay

10 MILES

Laguna de

Bay

Naic

LUZON

Calamba

Indang

Tagaytay Ridge

Taal volcano is at the

juncture of two faults

Balayan

Lipa

Lemery

Balayan

Bay

Batangas

Manila

Manila

Bay

Laguna de

Bay

Naic

LUZON

Calamba

Indang

Tagaytay Ridge

Mt.

Makiling

Taal volcano is at the

juncture of two faults

Balayan

Lipa

Lemery

Rosario

Balayan

Bay

Batangas

10 MILES

Manila

Manila

Bay

Laguna de

Bay

Naic

LUZON

Calamba

Indang

Tagaytay Ridge

Mt.

Makiling

Mt.

Banahaw

Taal volcano is at the

juncture of two faults

Balayan

Lipa

Lemery

Rosario

Balayan

Bay

Batangas

10 MILES

Manila

Manila

Bay

Laguna de

Bay

Naic

LUZON

Calamba

Indang

Tagaytay Ridge

Mt.

Makiling

Mt.

Banahaw

Taal volcano is at the

juncture of two faults

Balayan

Lipa

Lemery

Rosario

Balayan

Bay

Batangas

10 MILES

According to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS), the volcano remains at an Alert Level 4, which signals that a “Hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.”

The science agency noted Thursday that there were a total of 595 volcanic earthquakes between Sunday and Thursday, an indicator of the “intrusion” of molten rock, known as magma, beneath the surface of the volcano.

Taal

Detail

Lake

March 2016

Taal Lake

North

VOLCANO ISLAND

Taal volcano

observation deck

Crater Lake

Vulcan Point Island—

1/4 MILE

Google Earth

Jan. 16, 2020

Taal Lake

Approximate water level

of Crater Lake before eruption

Taal volcano

observation deck

Vulcan Point Island—

Water level after eruption

as detected by satellite

IceEye synthetic-aperture radar image

Taal

Detail

Lake

March 2016

Taal Lake

North

VOLCANO ISLAND

Taal volcano

observation deck

Crater Lake

Vulcan Point Island—

1/4 MILE

Google Earth

Jan. 16, 2020

Taal Lake

Approximate water level

of Crater Lake before eruption

Taal volcano

observation deck

Vulcan Point Island—

Water level after eruption

as detected by satellite

IceEye synthetic-aperture radar image

Taal

Detail

Lake

March 2016

Taal Lake

North

VOLCANO ISLAND

Taal volcano

observation deck

Crater Lake

Vulcan Point Island—

1/4 MILE

Google Earth

Jan. 16, 2020

Taal Lake

Approximate water level

of Crater Lake before eruption

Taal volcano

observation deck

Vulcan Point Island—

Water level after eruption

as detected by satellite

IceEye synthetic-aperture radar image

Taal

Detail

Lake

March 2016

Jan. 16, 2020

Taal Lake

Taal Lake

North

Approximate water level

of Crater Lake before eruption

VOLCANO ISLAND

Taal volcano

observation deck

Taal volcano

observation deck

Crater Lake

Vulcan Point Island—

Vulcan Point Island—

Water level after eruption

as detected by satellite

1/4 MILE

Google Earth

IceEye synthetic-aperture radar image

Taal

Detail

Lake

March 2016

Jan. 16, 2020

Taal Lake

Taal Lake

North

VOLCANO ISLAND

Approximate water level

of Crater Lake before eruption

Taal volcano

observation deck

Taal volcano

observation deck

Crater Lake

Vulcan Point Island—

Vulcan Point Island—

Water level after eruption

as detected by satellite

1/4 MILE

Google Earth

IceEye synthetic-aperture radar image

The draining of the lake that is located within the appropriately named Volcano Island may be contributing to this seismic activity as well.

Tony Lowry, a geophysicist at Utah State University, said the water in the small lake may have drained out due to “fissures that have opened up that are permitting the water to drain out.”


A satellite image from Planet Labs, taken Jan. 13, captures the eruption of the Taal volcano.

He does not expect this water to affect the course of the eruption, since it’s clearly being driven from the rise of magma from below the surface, and the volatility of the eruption is occurring at a deeper depth, where the magma is meeting water.

Another possibility, Lowry says, is that the water has been blown out of that island by the eruption. ““Depending on where the eruption is coming from it may well be that a lot of that water has been blown away,” he said.

“I wouldn’t think this would add to the hazard a great deal,” he said.


Lightning strikes as a column of ash surrounds the crater of Taal volcano as it erupts Sunday. (Ezra Acayan/Getty Images)

Lake Taal, which surrounds Volcano Island, has a geological history similar to Crater Lake in Oregon. It consists of a large caldera, which was formed when an ancient eruption resulted in a cave-in of the ground into empty magma chambers below. As Joel Achenbach wrote Thursday, Taal has erupted more than 30 times during the course of five centuries.

An eruption about 3,500 years ago was similar in scale to the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, located nearby in the Philippines. That eruption killed hundreds and lofted so much sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere that it helped cool the global climate by about a degree Fahrenheit for more than a year. Studies have shown that even relatively small volcanic eruptions that occur in the tropics, such as Taal, can have an outsize but short-term cooling influence on the global climate.


A fisherman catches fish as the Taal volcano erupts Thursday in Talisay, located in Batangas, Philippines. (Eloisa Lopez/Reuters)

“A caldera-forming eruption simply means that when you lift the surface of the Earth and you explode the magma out from beneath the surface, then you lose the roof support, and the roof collapses down, in essentially a circular hole. The caldera is the hole left after the subsidence,” said Robert Smith, a geophysicist at the University of Utah who has long studied Yellowstone, which is another giant caldera formed after a previous major eruption.

Volcano Island’s vanishing lake was confirmed through the use of space-based synthetic-aperture radar imagery, provided by the Finnish company ICEYE. This satellite is different than most other Earth-observing satellites, in that it can see through clouds to detect land features below.

Imagery from this company showed some of the first evidence of destruction from Hurricane Dorian in the Northwest Bahamas last year, for example.

Because Volcano Island sits within the broader Lake Taal, and is located on the larger island of Luzon, the Smithsonian’s Global Volcanism Program refers to the lake on Volcano Island as “a lake on an island on a lake on an island.”

Except now it’s a former — or possibly vaporized — lake on an island on a lake on an island.

Joel Achenbach contributed to this report.

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